London. September 1, 1995.
The sun made a valiant effort to come out as they walked back to Grimmauld Place, and Sirius stopped at the entrance to a small park and looked up hopefully.
"You know what Moody will say," Remus told him.
Nymphadora Tonks rolled her eyes, looking extremely young despite today's geriatric disguise. "Come off it, Remus. Mad-Eye'll be skulking around Knockturn Alley by now, hoping for a glimpse of a curse. I think he'd settle for a particularly nasty jinx, these days." She winked. "Have a heart."
Sirius jumped around her, knocking her onto a park bench and licking her face enthusiastically.
A passing old woman glared at Remus. "You should put a lead on that thing," she said. "He'll injure your mother."
Dora bent forward, pressing her face into the thick hair at the scruff of Sirius's neck, and Remus could see her shoulders trembling with laughter. Sirius barked sharply and ran away from her, chasing a pigeon down a path.
Dora laughed out loud. "Why don't you come and sit with your old mum for a bit?"
Remus knew perfectly well that he should call Sirius back and get them all to Number Twelve before anything happened, but Sirius was happily jumping into a drift of cut grass now, and Dora was laughing hugely, her smile open to the sky, and as usual, Remus surrendered. He sat down on the bench beside her.
She presented her cheek primly. "Haven't you a kiss for Mum?"
But she threw her head back and laughed again before he could decide whether or not to play along.
"Why the Granny look?" he asked.
"You told me I would have to morph older this year."
"I didn't mean quite that old."
"You're so demanding."
"I'm a wicked son," Remus agreed, pulling her pork pie hat from her head and tossing it to Sirius, who jumped into the air to catch it and came padding back over.
Dora took her hat from him, but didn't put it back on. She just dug her fingers into his scruff and scratched his neck energetically. Sirius let his tongue loll out in pleasure.
"I think it's far too much fun to be a dog," Dora said. "Probably illegal in some countries."
"Including this one," Remus reminded her.
Sirius rolled his eyes in a distinctly non-canine way.
A cloud crossed the sun, and Remus heard very distant thunder. He looked at the sky with distaste. "Looks like the weather's changing. We should get back."
Dora stuck her tongue out at the sky in a petulant way, and the first fat raindrop fell on it. "All right," she said. "Hup, Snuffles. Home."
Sirius stretched out on the grass and whined plaintively.
Dora reached into her handbag and pulled out a lead.
Sirius got up, tail dejectedly between his legs, and headed for the gate with an exaggerated malaise.
Remus sighed and followed him, Dora at his side. They reached Number Twelve just as the day's first rainfall really let loose, and Remus barely got the door charms reversed before they were soaked to the skin by a downpour. Dora slammed the door behind her to avoid a sail of rain being pushed by the wind, and the clang awoke--
"Filthy createres!!! Half-Bloods! Blood traitor! Shame of my--""
"IF YOU DON'T SHUT UP, I'M GOING TO TAKE AN AXE TO YOU!"
Sirius had transformed, and was facing down his mother's portrait, looking every inch the murderer he was believed to be. His hands were twitching. But he didn't quite touch the canvas.
Mrs. Black was shocked into silence for two, perhaps three, seconds, then howled, "Murdering wastrel! Mudblood-loving traitor! Ungrateful--"
"Come on," Remus said, taking one of the curtains, and nodding for Sirius to take the other.
"Dark creature! Mongrel!"
They wrestled the curtains shut and Mrs. Black fell silent.
"Who painted that bloody thing anyway?" Dora asked.
"Narcissa signed it," Sirius said. "Probably sitting here trying to get Mum to make her the heir. But Dumbledore said Mum had pretty well gone round the bend by then. So the picture... it's just the subject. She was a nasty young bat when I knew her, and a nasty, crazy old bat when she died." He frowned at the curtains, then shrugged the subject off. "Can you both stay for lunch?"
"Kingsley gave me the day," Dora said. "Mostly to help Remus get ready for tomorrow, though he gave me a long go-round at the office about going off to the beach."
Sirius grinned. "How's that project going?"
"Remus told me yesterday that I'd have to be older, but now he thinks I'm too old." She sighed, and as she exhaled, she let herself shrink down to her normal height. Her gray, tightly curled hair stood on end and turned pink. "I think I should just show up as usual."
"I think that might attract attention."
"So I'll do away with the pink hair and put on a dress."
"Honestly, Remus," Sirius said. "Why shouldn't she just do that?"
"The whole point is to be unnoticeable. If a history teacher in an inexpensive suit has a beautiful and inappropriately young wife, the boys will talk. Not a good way to be inconspicuous."
"I didn't know boys gossiped about things like that," Dora said, with some interest. She sat down and put her feet up on the table. "At least not left on their own. And did you say beautiful?"
"And inappropriately young."
Dora put her fingers in her ears, then smiled. "At any rate, I thought I'd become appropriately old for the Ancient One here."
Remus sighed. "They don't allow friends to make social calls on campus, but it's a long-standing tradition that teachers' spouses are allowed to join them for lunch. It will make a perfectly workable cover for Dora to bring me Wolfsbane potion. I wish it kept better. I'd just bring it with me in the morning."
"But it doesn't," Dora said cheerfully. "So I get to play. Once or twice a week all year, so that they don't spot the pattern. Not that Muggles would know what to make of it."
"You'd be surprised what Muggles know," Remus muttered.
There was a lull in the conversation as Sirius puttered around at the sink, putting together a lunch. He brought them sandwiches and sat down on the other side of the table. "I still think we should tell Harry," he said. "We're keeping too much from him."
"It hasn't occurred to him to worry about this, and he can't do a thing about it," Remus said wearily. "Do you really want to add to the number of things he's worrying about?"
"I don't know how much he'd worry."
"He's Harry," Remus said. "He'll worry. He'll kick himself for worrying, but he'll do it. And he doesn't need to. I've got this one."
"And your sick days?"
"I'm just going to have to drag myself in the day after a transformation."
"Remus is looking forward to this," Dora said with friendly confidentiality. "Can't wait to get chalk on his hands, that one."
"He doesn't do very well covering it," Sirius agreed.
Remus didn't bother to argue. "Still, I have to say--I'm not at all fond of Smeltings."
"Any particular reason?" Dora asked.
Remus thought about it. His interview had gone well; he might not even have needed the slight Persuasion Charm he'd used. He'd studied intensively to have the material he would be teaching mastered, and, although his Qualified Teacher Status was forged, he'd made a point of educating himself on the matters he would have had to learn to achieve it. As a result, he'd been able to answer all of the Headmaster's questions clearly and succinctly, and when the Headmaster--a piebald man called Blythe--had asked him how he would explain the appeasing strategy of Chamberlain, much of his frustration at the current Ministry had come out, and had apparently given Blythe the idea that he was a passionate scholar of history. They had talked for nearly three hours, and Remus had known he had the position long before it was formally offered.
He was expected to know how to use a computer, something he had been unable to teach himself in a magical environment, and that contributed to the anxiety. He'd gone to the public library where he'd studied the other material, and had a go with one of the things for an hour or two. He hadn't been able to do much. It took that long to understand the input devices--a keyboard which bore no resemblance to the English alphabet and a strange, rolling contraption that would allegedly allow him to move around the screen, but which kept locking up as something stopped the motion of the small plastic ball on its underside. He found it easier to use the arrows on the keyboard, which at least made sense. The machine made him nervous, but it was also exciting. It was something genuinely different from the world he knew.
But Dora and Sirius were right. It was the prospect of having a class again that excited him most, and he'd spent days drawing out different lesson plans and assignments, learning the Byzantine ways of the Muggle educational system. He was certain to make some mistakes, but Blythe had cheerfully promised him that no one really understood the ruddy system except for the school's secretary, who filed all the necessary papers with the government.
Still, he didn't like Smeltings.
Maybe it was just because he was expected to ignore it when the boys hit one another with sticks (though that was the de facto policy at Hogwarts when students threw spells at one another). Maybe it was because Blythe had described the national curriculum guide to discussing cultural diversity as "that bleeding heart rubbish." Maybe it was simply that it was an all-boys' school, a notion that struck Remus as profoundly unnatural.
Or maybe it was because Smeltings was in the process of producing its third generation of Dursley men, a fact which would never recommend it to Remus Lupin. Vernon Dursley had been a stupid and intolerant young man, and according to Arabella Figg, he'd only grown more so over the years. Dudley was, by all accounts, a dimwitted bully. That he was quite popular in his year at Smeltings didn't speak well for the student body.
He looked up. Dora was waving her hand playfully in front of his nose. "Right. I can't put my finger on it. It's just not a place I like. Or maybe I'm just not looking forward to a year in the company of Dudley Dursley."
Sirius pretended shock. "Kindly Professor Lupin, preemptively disliking a child? Next thing, you'll tell me that you weren't looking forward to teaching my dear little cousin Draco."
"And yet, he turned out to be such a joy to me."
"Maybe he'll surprise you," Sirius said. "Turn out to be all Evans."
"Hmm." He shrugged. "Well, Petunia's not a stupid woman, just a closed-minded one. When Lily and I were prefects fifth year, I remember her bragging about how clever Petunia was, and wishing she were around to help get things organized. Do you remember when her parents told her that Petunia had decided to leave school at sixteen?"
"That was the first time I saw a patented Lily temper tantrum." Sirius smiled fondly. "First time I saw what James saw in her, too. It was impressive." He laughed. "Remember James egging her on?"
Dora was looking between them curiously. "Er... this is Harry's mum?"
"Oh, yes," Remus said. "I'm sorry. I forgot that you wouldn't know that right away."
Sirius was still chuckling fondly, his eyes deep in the past. "I remember that she finished breaking everything she could reach. James repaired three vases and handed them to her to smash again. God, she was furious. James loved it when she lost her temper, as long as it wasn't at him."
Remus smiled. "Well, as I understand it, Dudley does, in fact, have an Evans temper."
"Yes," Dora said, "getting back to the present?"
Sirius looked at her vaguely, coming out of whatever reverie he was about to enter. Remus was worried about these forays into the past--they were startlingly vivid for Sirius--but they didn't seem to be doing him any harm. "Right. Protecting Dudley. What do you plan to do if Voldemort drops by?"
"I doubt he'd come himself," Remus said. "And Privet Drive is safe--Dudley isn't the Secret Keeper, so he can't tell anyone that Harry is there. I think it's a low level danger. Only if someone remembers that Lily had a sister and thinks that a sister might be helpful."
"In other words, someone who didn't know Lily and her sister very well."
"But knew she had one, and would know her name and who she married. I can think of at least one person in the inner circle who would know that, can't you?"
"Peter." Sirius ground his teeth and muttered under his breath. "If he shows, let me in on it."
"It might be a good idea to let him live," Dora said. "He could testify under Veritaserum."
"Barty Crouch did that," Sirius said. "The Ministry ignored it. I think we should just kill him."
Dora started to argue, but Remus held up his hand. Sirius wasn't going to change his mind, and it wouldn't come up--if Peter Pettigrew showed his face, and Remus avoided the urge to kill him himself, it was Dora or Kingsley he would call. The Ministry might ignore any individual testimony, but the more of it built up, the more difficult it would be to do so.
Miraculously, Dora held her tongue. She just stood up and kissed the top of Sirius's head, burying her hands in his long hair and scratching vigorously, as she'd done when he was in his dog form in the park. He looked irritated with her for a moment, then smiled.
"We should do some planning," she said. "Not to dwell on unpleasant issues, but Sunday night is a full moon. I'll have to start bringing you your afternoon Wolfsbane by Wednesday at the latest."
"Right." And come class on Monday morning, I'll be falling over the desk. "My lunch period is at a quarter past noon. Will you be able to make it?"
"Kingsley put me on evenings. I should be fine for that. And I'll leave the Potion over the fire here for the night time doses."
"I'm glad you're on this instead of Snape," Sirius said. "I don't trust that git any further than I can throw him."
"Well, he taught me to brew it," Dora said. "So if he's planning anything nasty..."
"It was fine last month," Remus said quickly, before Sirius got started on Snape. Fine was an overstatement--the Wolfsbane Potion was wretched-tasting stuff no matter how you looked at it, and there was nothing fine about the need to take it--but it had accomplished its purpose with no side effects.
Dora grinned with pride. "What can I say? I'm a genius Potion brewer. Even old Snape couldn't find anything to complain about, except that I spilled the dragon bile when I tripped over the carton he had it on."
"Please don't talk about the ingredients," Remus said. "I have to drink it."
She rolled her eyes at him. "At any rate, I'd best come up with an 'appropriate' look." She walked over to the large empty area of the hearth. The arch of the empty fireplace framed her. "All right, Remus," she said, shaking out her arms and adopting a loose, at-the-ready pose. "It's time. Make me into the woman of your inappropriately old dreams."
In the end, it was mainly Sirius who came up with Dora's look. Remus had been quite unable to articulate what he was looking for in a pretended wife.
"Well, what are you looking for in a real one?" Dora had asked cheerfully, pawing through the clothes in one of the four trunks she'd summoned down to the kitchen.
"I assume I'll know when I meet her," Remus muttered. "I'm certainly not looking for someone who's building herself to my specifications."
"Oh, come on, Remus. Give us a hint." Sirius leaned back against the wall with a bottle of butterbeer. "Or should I just list all the girls you dated at Hogwarts?"
Remus raised an eyebrow. "Both of them? I don't know. Do we have enough time?"
"Well, all the ones you mooned about over, then."
"So to speak."
"Any general trends?" Dora asked.
Sirius shrugged. Remus sighed and shook his head.
"Bookish or artistic?" Dora asked, pulling out two different Muggle dresses. Remus didn't know which was meant to be which.
"Rumpled," Sirius said. "The tweedy-looking one."
"Oh, artists," Dora said. "I'll be right back." She took the rust brown, rough-woven dress and ran out up the stairs.
"Where does she get all these clothes?" Sirius mused, wandering over to her trunks.
"Ted's been taking her to a Muggle used clothing store for quite a long time," Remus said. "It used to be her hobby. Now, I suppose she means to use it as an Auror."
A moment later, Dora came bounding back down the stairs, barefoot, dangling her strait-laced black shoes from one hand. She seemed to be taller than when she'd left.
"It's a bit bigger than I am," she explained. "But conveniently, I never have to alter my clothes. I just alter me." She tossed the shoes aside carelessly, and went digging in another trunk, coming up with a pair of thick-soled sandals. "These'll do." She put them on, searched in a third trunk for a rumpled, dusky red cardigan and a soft hat, which she tossed on over the dress. "How's that for a look? Artsy?"
"I have no idea about the clothes," Remus said. "But you're still awfully young."
"Right, right." She screwed her face up in concentration, and her nose lengthened, then shaped itself into a dagger between sharp cheekbones. Her skin dulled, and lines appeared around her eyes.
"Turn round," Sirius said, and did so. He frowned. "You know I love the pink hair. But..."
"Right." Dora's hair darkened alarmingly, as if black sap had been drawn into its roots. "Long or short?" she asked.
Remus didn't answer.
"Long," Sirius said. "But neat."
Her hair grew down to her shoulderblades.
"Curly or straight?"
Remus didn't have any opinion on that, either. He looked anywhere but at Dora while she and Sirius negotiated the finer points of her appearance. Straight hair. Coarse and thick. Her nails would be kept short. She'd wear some sort of jangling bracelets. And, though Remus had been unaware of such jewelry, something called an anklet. Dora was quite excited about the last, as she had apparently not had an opportunity to wear it.
"Come on, how's this?" she prodded.
Remus looked her over. He had no idea what to make of the clothes, which hardly seemed Smeltings-like but were otherwise unremarkable. He'd seen middle-aged women on university campuses dressed in this manner; it wouldn't be untoward for an intellectual. She probably wouldn't raise any eyebrows as a teacher's wife. Her face had aged reasonably. She didn't look much like Nymphadora Tonks, except for her eyes--she'd gone for a faded blue, but they danced with mischief a usual. No matter how she morphed, she always seemed to be a small girl playing pretend.
At least to someone who knew her.
"You still look a bit young," he said. "But... I suppose..."
"Oh, for heaven's sake." She twisted her face again, and her rich black hair became iron gray. It was actually rather striking, and fit this particular face better. Her eyes kept the look from actually being old. "Will this do?"
"It's fine," Remus said. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to be difficult."
"'S all right," she said, waving a dismissive hand, and starting to morph herself back into her more familiar shape. "Shall I just use my own name?"
"Dora will be fine. 'Nymphadora' may not quite fit in Muggle circles."
She grinned. "In that case, I'm moving into the Muggle world."
"Nymphadora," Remus teased her.
She stuck out her tongue. "Why can't you just call me Tonks like everyone else does?"
"Because that's what people called your father. It would be confusing."
"At any rate," Sirius said, "it would be a bit odd for a man to call his wife by her father's name, wouldn't it?"
"Dora Lupin it is, then." She smiled. "Sounds lovely."
Remus felt his cheeks go red. "Don't get attached. I'm going under a different name. And a few appearance charms. In case anyone's already there. I interviewed as Raymond Lewis."
"Dora Lewis, then. But if you don't start being a bit less demanding, I'll keep my maiden name." She grinned and kissed his nose, as she had before taking her leave since she was a small child. "I'd best get home. I can put together a few more outfits with my real wardrobe."
"You have more?" Sirius asked.
"Well, my clothes don't morph with me." She hugged him and scratched behind his ears again, and he kissed her forehead. "I'll be back tomorrow after my shift at work. Try to sleep tonight?"
Sirius nodded. "I promise."
Dora shook her finger at Remus. "You, too. No lesson-planning, Professor Lupin. And don't think I won't find out."
She gave him a quick hug, then disappeared up the stairs.
Sirius glanced around the kitchen. "House is too bloody quiet," he said. "When's the next meeting?"
"Pity Molly and Arthur decided to go back to the Burrow."
"It is where they live. And unlike the children, they can Apparate out when they need to."
"You know, Dora would probably move in here if we asked her to."
"Can you even imagine what Molly would have to say about that?"
Sirius laughed without much humor. "At least it wouldn't be so quiet. I swear, that woman can outscream Mum."
"Molly means well."
"I know." He sighed and stared morosely into a dusty corner, the distracted look coming back into his face. He hadn't realized until he actually met Molly Weasley exactly how much influence she'd had on Harry, and he didn't like it. "Do you mind if I transform for a bit?" he asked. "I don't feel much like thinking."
"It's your house," Remus said. "You can be any species you'd like to be."
Sirius had transformed before he finished speaking, and padded up the stairs. A few minutes later, Remus heard him pawing at doors and whining.
Remus took a deep breath, and started cleaning up the kitchen.